The Axis of Evil has a new member. Nathaniel Heatwole, a 20-year-old college student, recently boarded four Southwest Airlines jets with box cutters and other banned items, hiding the bags of goodies for authorities to find once inside the airplane.
No, this madman isn’t a member of al Qaeda, nor does his face appear once in the “Most Wanted Iraqis” card deck. But don’t let this Damascus, MD, native fool you; he’s up to no good. And because of federal prosecution, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
Contrary to the belief that the “war on terror” and heightened security measures at airports nationwide are working, Heatwole wanted to show the powers that be just how easy terrorists would have it if they decided to hijack another aircraft.
Heatwole hid bags containing forbidden articles aboard four planes, and for good measure, sent an e-mail confessing the acts to the Transportation Security Administration.
But the e-mail must have accidentally gotten lost in the shuffle, and the message was never passed on to the FBI for further investigation. In fact, the contraband on two of the planes stayed hidden for about five weeks.
If authorities can’t find month-old smuggled goods a college student planted, how does the TSA expect to thwart real acts of terrorism? I imagine Osama and his buddies won’t admit to their next attack beforehand in a nice little e-mail they send our way.
Democrats realize this and have been critical of the steps to prosecute Heatwole. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the decision is “more to cover the fact that the government dropped the ball.”
The phrase “dropped the ball” doesn’t come close. People’s lives are seriously at risk if every college student with a knack for cunning can board a plane, hide goods and get away with it for more than a month because the act does not pose an “imminent threat.”
Security breaches must be taken more seriously, and the response time to these threats needs drastic improvement. The last time we tried to brush terrorism under the rug, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives.
But Deputy TSA Administrator Stephen McHale won’t back down and says he wants to “make clear that renegade acts to probe airport security for whatever reason will not be tolerated, pure and simple. Amateur testing of our systems does not show us in any way our flaws. We know where the vulnerabilities are and we are testing them. This does not help.”
It’s exactly that attitude that doesn’t help the situation. When self-righteous authorities clearly disregard any wrongdoing in their policies, the whole country suffers.
Political leaders need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for their organizational techniques. If Heatwole’s test didn’t show any flaws, I dread the day another act of terrorism is downplayed and spun to show just how great our nation is combating terror.
I will concede that according to TSA records, 1,018 people have been arrested since Feb. 19, 2002 for attempting to transport banned items onto airplanes. But the agency has no statistics on how many of those people were charged or convicted.
Those figures must be lying next to Nate’s e-mail.
Brandon Lausch can be reached at Goskateboarding2000@hotmail.com.